Thursday, 8 October 2020

Part 23 : In My Heart

"Good Evening Sir. I'm sorry to disturb you but I wanted to ask whether you were expecting a visitor tonight." The manager of Hotel Royal Cliff, Kanpur asked.

"No, I'm not. Is there any problem?" Armaan questioned turning a page in his file. "Sir, there's a lady and a man waiting for you in the lobby since an hour."

"That's strange. What's her name anyway?" Armaan asked disinterestedly assuming it to be someone from press media.

"Wait a minute Sir, her name is Riddhima." he read from the register of visitors.

"Riddhima? What is she doing here? Wait I'm coming down now." He replied cutting the call.

"Sorry Ms. Jones I have to leave now." Armaan scraped his chair back and rushed out of the dinning zone without waiting for a reply. He managed to squeeze into a closing lift and gave an apologetic smile to the man whom he'd bumped into.

"Where's she?" he inquired the Manager who'd been waiting outside the lift. He pointed to the visitors' lounge on the other side of the lobby. Armaan reached there in quick strides and startled Riddhima by pulling her up from the sofa. He sighed in relief on having found no sign of injury and crushed her in his embrace.

"What are you doing here? Why didn't you inform me earlier?"

"I can also ask the same questions." Riddhima replied pulling out of the hug. Armaan turned towards the Manager who inquired curiously.

"Are you related to her, Sir?"

"Yes, she's my wife."

"Sorry Sir but we didn't know she is Mrs. Mallik and she herself said not to disturb your meeting." the manager explained.

"Please arrange a room for my friend Derek and send in some refreshments immediately. Derek, go and do the formalities. Meet me in the morning; I'm not done with you." Armaan said dismissing the Manager and the well-built man accompanying Riddhima.

"Why didn't you tell them who you were?" Armaan asked Riddhima while walking them to the lift.

"I didn't know if you would want to tell them about us?"

"Why would you think so?"

"What else am I supposed to think?" she spoke loudly earning them looks from the staff and visitors.

"We'll continue this in our room." Armaan pressed the lift's button to take them to his floor. Both of them stood in an uncomfortable silence and glanced at each other awkwardly from the corner of their eyes.

Armaan slid the card through the card detector on the door to unlock it. He led her to the bedroom so that she could freshen up and he could think clearly for a moment. Right now he could feel the walls closing in on him with the tension in the room so he turned around to leave but Riddhima clearly had different intentions.

"Where are you going Armaan? Why didn't you tell me about this trip?" she marched in front of him with her hands on her hips.

"I wanted to tell you Basket but if you remember we didn't get any time last night." Armaan explained.

"And whose mistake is this Armaan that we aren't finding any time for us? Yesterday we couldn't talk due to everyone's presence but what about the previous 5 days? You didn't even call me once, just a good morning and good night message. You think that's sufficient enough?"

"I got busy with office." He replied curtly turning away and massaged his temples to ease the throbbing headache.

"You really think I'll buy this lame excuse?" Riddhima's expressions changed from angry to baffled as she looked at Armaan. His lips were set in a straight line but his eyes reflected hurt and pain. She closed the gap between them and embraced him but he just stood stiff with his arms by his sides. "What's wrong Baby?" she whispered trying to pull herself back but Armaan crushed her to his chest, hiding his face in her neck. Armaan shut his eyes tightly to prevent the tears from falling but he had suffered long in his guilt and couldn't hold himself up any longer. His body shook as he wept silently.

"Armaan kya baat hai? Tum ro kyun rahey ho? You're scaring me, please say something." Riddhima spoke rubbing his back trying to calm him but was met with no answer.

"I'm sorry. So so sorry." He whispered hoarsely.

"Tum kya bol rahey ho mujhe kuch samajh nahin aa raha Armaan." she replied confused.

"I couldn't protect you. I wasn't there when you needed me. I wasn't there when that bas***d touched you." Riddhima gasped loudly hearing him. She couldn't believe he was hurting so much for no fault of his.

"I.. How.. You.." she stuttered not understanding what to say. Armaan's tears continued soaking her shoulder. Riddhima cleared her throat of the lump that had formed and pushed at his arms to pull away.

"You protected me to the best of your ability Armaan. It was my fault, entirely my fault. I was stupid to go out alone and attract trouble." She spoke rubbing his wet cheek. Armaan shook his head negatively.

"Yes you did Armaan. Wasn't that why you submitted our wedding papers in court? Wasn't that why you were tracing Rakesh's background? Wasn't that why you had put body guards for my security? You did everything you could to protect me. I was silly to not have listened to you." Riddhima said looking in to his eyes.

"I had never felt so helpless like those 2 days. I couldn't do anything other than just wait. If Arjun wouldn't have taken the risk, I could.. I would have lost.." His voice broke at the end.

"You didn't lose me. I'm here in front of you and that is only because of you." She replied following with her eyes where Armaan's gaze was focused.

"It's only a bruise; it'll go away completely in a few days."

"It's only a bruise for you but for me your disheveled state is permanently etched on my mind. I don't know what would have happened if Arjun and Rahul didn't reach on time?"

"I was really scared when that man came into the room. He was reeking of alcohol and couldn't control himself. He was.. He tried to.. kiss me but thankfully his partners came on time and dragged him out." she continued as he slowly caressed the mark on her arm and kissed it.

The crme silk curtains danced on the tunes of wind as Riddhima unlatched the glass door opening in to a balcony. She inhaled the fresh cool wind. Armaan stepped beside her with a cup of coffee for both of them.

"So you were avoiding me deliberately all these days?" Riddhima asked in a hurt tone taking the mug.

"I'm sorry Basket. I couldn't gather courage to see you after what I put you through. I know you must be upset that I didn't tell you about the paper submission. Believe me Basket, I only did it because I thought that was the only way to safeguard you and at that time we didn't even know about our families' agreement." He said.

"I wasn't upset only surprised that you didn't even tell me. I know you would never do anything that would hurt me." she spoke confidently. They both stood in silence drinking the warm coffee and staring ahead at the traffic.

"Armaan, why did you decide the next month for our wedding?" Riddhima asked hesitatingly as he bent to place the empty mugs on the coffee table outside. Armaan stiffened at the question.

"I thought by that time you'll be ready for the wedding. But it's okay if you're not fine with it. I'll postpone it for six months." he replied cautiously.

"Six months!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, is that not fine too? Phir tum bata do kab karni hai shaadi?" he asked sadly.

"Next week." She replied meekly.

"Oh, next week. Wait. What? You mean this coming week?" He beamed as she nodded.

"Chalo let's get married next week then."

"Really?" Riddhima's eyes sparkled with hope. Armaan chuckled and shook his head.

"Sorry Baby but next week can't happen. There are lots of preparations to be done."

"We can hire a good wedding planner that'll help with all the arrangements." She suggested walking towards him.

"No it can't because I need time to arrange the venue as well as your bridal outfit. Nothing short of perfection will work for my Jaan. Plus you have to do the interiors of our room back home, it's completely bare, remember?"

"Armaan we'll get married here, right? So that means we'll spend our first night also over here, so we can later decorate our room together when we return." Armaan pulled her flush against him and whispered.

"I didn't know you were thinking about our first night. So should I be expecting a surprise or something special?" He chuckled as she scowled at him.

"Choro, choro mujhe." She struggled in his arms but he shook his head enjoying the view of her crimson cheeks and lowered eyelids.

"I've selected a few designs for our room. You can choose from them or from anywhere you like theek haina?" Armaan said pushing her chin upwards but she refused to meet his eyes.

"I'll select the designs and accessories and email them to my friend. She's an interior designer, I'm sure she can help."

"Do whatever you like, I have no objections. There's no need to hurry, you can work them out with your friend once you return."

"Return?" she questioned raising her eye brow.

"Yeah everyone's returning back this weekend. They've already missed so much work. I don't want them to be tied up with commitments and not make it in time for our wedding." he explained.

"You decided everything and didn't even tell me. No one told me." she moved away from him complaining.

"I just booked the tickets today only and nobody knows yet."

"Okay. So when will you come back to India, you were saying na you needed time for arrangements and all?" Riddhima asked a bit relieved that he wasn't hiding things.

"That won't be a problem because I'm not going back to Leeds."

"What? You're not coming with us? Why?" she inquired.

"I have work over here."

"I'm also not going back then. I also have work over here. I have to select my dresses and jewelry."

"No you are going back. You can select whatever you want and it'll be done before you return. You have more important work over there."

"I can do all my work from here. There'll be no problem. You don't worry."

"I know you can but Basket you have to go. You have to settle your business also along with other personal things."

"Why are you so adamant on sending me back? Why aren't you coming with us?" she whined.

"I have work over here Baby. I'll come to meet you and once all is settled I'll call you here. Theek haina Jaan?" he asked cupping her face.

"Nahin. Main kahin nahin jaon gi. I'll stay here only and this is final." she turned away crossing her arms on her chest.

"Ye kya bachpana hai Basket? Why are you creating a scene? Can't you understand such a small thing?" Armaan asked in an irritated tone.

"Oh tou tum yek kyun nahin bolte, you don't want me to be around you." Riddhima said narrowing her eyes.

"Don't be silly. You also know this is not true. I wouldn't have asked you to go away from me if it wasn't necessary."

"I don't know anything. I'm not going whether you like it or not."

"Stop this non-sense Riddhima. I've told you once and it's final. You are going back. There'll be no further discussion on this, understand." Riddhima's lips quivered and her eyes glistened with tears as Armaan spoke loudly.

"Don't talk to me. I won't trouble you more and leave early in the morning. Don't follow me inside. I want to be alone." she said walking away as he tried to say something.

Armaan got up from the chair where he had slumped after Riddhima went inside. It had been an hour and still she hadn't come back into the room. He could see the bed empty. He walked in to the lounge and found her sleeping on the leather couch with a cushion under her head.

"I'm sorry sweetheart." Armaan whispered kissing her forehead. He adjusted the pillows and covered her properly with the duvet before leaving the room with a pillow and an extra blanket.

Riddhima stood at the double doors of the conference hall and peeked inside through the glass slit. A small group was gathered at one end of the long desk discussing designs from files whereas Armaan sat with a lady quoting and explaining the finance required for the project through a pie chart on his laptop. The lady batted her eye lashes and nodded vigorously whenever he glanced at her for approval though most of her attention was focused on Armaan's face. Riddhima huffed looking at this interaction and knocked softly. Armaan did a double take at the door as he saw his Manager hold the door open for Riddhima. He stood up as he saw her walk towards him with a sad smile. Armaan was shocked when she wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her face in his chest murmuring sorry. He held her close and kissed her hair with a satisfied smile. Riddhima turned in his arms when she heard someone clear their throat slowly.

"Ms. Rhea, it's a pleasure to see you." The lady said standing up and forwarding her hand.

"Ms. Jones." Riddhima shook hands with a tight smile resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

"You know each other?" Armaan asked.

"Yes, she's been to many events with her father and brothers." Ms. Jones replied.

"Will you introduce us to the pretty lady here, Mr. Mallik?" One of the young gentlemen asked with a smile.

"Of course. Everyone meet my wife, Riddhima Armaan Mallik and Riddhima, these are the delegates we're doing the Kanpur project with and here these three are from our office." Armaan said wrapping his arm around her waist. He admired her semi-formal attire of dark denim jeans with a baby pink top and gray jacket.

The waiters walked in rolling trolleys loaded with light refreshments.

"I thought light snacks would be nice seeing how my husband skipped his breakfast and has imprisoned you all over here for the past 4 hours." Armaan chuckled seeing the enthusiastic response of his team members.

"Why did you never mention about your marriage Mr. Mallik?" Ms. Jones inquired.

"Armaan might not have mentioned it because one, he doesn't know you so well and second we both tend to keep our business and personal life separate. I hope that satisfies your curiosity. Why don't you take something?" Riddhima replied confidently, doing a small happy dance mentally on Ms. Jones long face.

"Tum raat mein bahar kyun soye?" she asked softly making sure no one heard them.

"Tum ne kaha tha main peeche na aaon or tumhe akela chor doon." Armaan replied filling a plate with cutlets, patties and Swiss rolls.

"I'm sorry for over reacting last night. I didn't mean to upset you." She said filling the cups with coffee.

"I know. I also didn't mean to upset you but you have to understand I have a reason for asking you to leave. We'll discuss this after the meeting is over." Both of them walked back to the table. Everyone enjoyed the small break chatting and laughing at the jokes guys cracked.

"You should join us more often Ma'am. It's nice to have you around. Sir is also more relaxed now." Vineet, Armaan's finance manager, said showing the project presentation to Riddhima as she requested to see it while Armaan fixed last issues to which she smiled in response.

Armaan grabbed Riddhima's arm as she crawled on her knees to bed's edge. They were sitting in their room with Armaan working on his laptop while Riddhima idly browsed through her tablet.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going out since you're so busy on your laptop." Armaan chuckled at her irritated response.

"You wanted my attention? I thought you were enjoying the fan fiction."

"What else was I supposed to do? Talk to the walls."

"Wait you have all my attention. Come here." He pulled her between his stretched legs with her back pressed against his chest. He placed his chin on her shoulder and pecked her cheek wrapping his arms around her waist.

"Rakesh's case hearing is within a few days and I want you out of here before that. This is a big case as it involves many businessmen. The media will be on a roll, they will follow anyone who has even a bit to do with it. They know about you as one of his charges is concerning you." He explained stroking her arms.

"I just want to be here with you when you go for the trial and when he gets sentenced. I won't go out anywhere, promise."

"It doesn't matter if you don't go out, they will follow me to reach you. Now do you plan on not meeting me too all this time? Please Basket, I won't be able to live in peace if you stay back. I can't compromise on your safety nor allow anyone to drag my wife into all this mess just for juicy gossip. I understand your feelings but please for me?" he requested turning her to face him. She pouted in result and he sighed with relief pecking her lips softly.

"Thank you. I promise to call you back as soon as this gets wrapped up. So woh baat to beech mein reh gayi kal."

"Kaunsi?" she asked lost in his blue eyes.

"Tum kuch bol rahi thi first night ka?"

"Hmm" He raised his eyebrows in question breaking her trance. His eyes shone with a naughty glint as her eyes widened and mouth opened in realization.

"Move..leave.. I have to go.. Someone is calling me." Armaan kept shaking his head at her attempts of moving out of his arms.

"Oh really. Kaun bula raha hai? Yahan hum dono ke alawa koi nahin hai. Tou main keh raha tha how about we practice for our first.." He whispered blowing air on her ear. She gasped and shut her eyes tightly.

"Aa gayi mere pyar ki dushman." Armaan groaned seeing the caller's name on her ringing mobile.

"Hey Muski." Riddhima giggled softly looking at Armaan's sulking face while moving out of the room.

A white car stopped in front of the huge iron gates. Armaan and Riddhima stepped out of the car and looked at the white bungalow inside. They had come to visit Prerna's maternal house in one of Kanpur's village. Apparently Muskaan and Prerna had told Riddhima about it and so she was adamant on visiting it while she was here.

"Kaha tha na koi nahin hoga yahan. Ab dekh lia na, chalo wapis chalien." Armaan turned back to go in the car but she held his hand.

"Maa ne kaha hai ke the caretaker lives here with his family. Unho ne call ki hai usey hamare anay ka batane ke liye. Kisi se poocho na, wo kahan hai. Mujhe ander jana hai." He narrowed his eyes at her stupid request.

"Agar wo ander hai tou itna andhera kyun hai?"

"Armaan tum dekh rahey ho ya main khud jaon." Their bickering stopped as the iron gate creaked and an old man came out.

"Namaste. Kya ap Armaan Baba hain?" He asked squinting his eyes to see properly through his thick glasses.

"Itna andhera kyun hai kaka?" Armaan asked holding Riddhima's hand stepping inside.

"Bijli nahin hai. Aa jaye gi thori dair mein. Tab tak ap aaram se baithye. Ap ka kamra tayar kar dia hai meri patni ne." the old man said.

"Nahin kaka. Hum yahin lounge mein baithte hain." Armaan replied sitting on one of the huge sofa. The caretaker excused himself to bring them some refreshments. The room glowed dimly from the little light coming in from the windows as the sun was about to set. The walls were adorned with big portraits while many show pieces were placed in different corners and huge old furniture covered the spacious room.

The couple went out after the snacks for a round of the village on Riddhima's insistence. They visited the Mandir, walked around the park and Armaan showed her the land where construction was supposed to begin. "Why are you sulking like a baby Armaan?"

"Why are you so excited like a little kid Basket?"

"Armaan wo dekho amrood. Mujhe khana hai. Chalo, chaloo." They stopped at a stall to buy guavas which Riddhima ate with glee.

"You've got to be kidding me Basket. Hum yahan reh kar kya karien ge?" Armaan yelled once he closed the door of their bedroom.

"Shh. Talk slowly. Didn't you see how they've prepared dinner for us and arranged everything? How could I say no?" she replied softly knowing how pissed Armaan was.

"Dinner tak theek tha, but I'm not staying here. No ways. Na light hai na kuch. Hum yahan raat kaise guzarein ge? We're going back after the dinner, bus."

"Pleaseee." Armaan made a crying face as she kept pouting and asking to stay.

"Theek hai baad mein mujhe mat kehna agar problem ho to." Riddhima squealed and hugged him happily making him frown as to why she was so happy.

Armaan sat in the veranda talking to a few villagers who had come to meet him. They told him about the problems they had to face in the electricity plant that was under construction in supervision of Mallik Industries. They thanked him for starting a cottage industry for the women of village. Armaan skipped upstairs after saying goodnight to kaka and his family.

"Basket can you give my clothes, I want to take a bath. It's so hot here." He entered the room unbuttoning his black shirt. Armaan's breath stuck seeing her in an aqua chiffon saree with royal blue strapless blouse. His heart went in to over drive as she turned towards him with an anklet in her hand. The light from the lanterns cast a soft glow on Riddhima's face. A wide smile spread on his face hearing the chime of her anklets as she shook them. He kissed her feet after securing the anklets. Riddhima blushed as Armaan stared at their reflection in the mirror.

"Beautiful." He spoke curling a wet strand of her hair on his finger. He nuzzled her neck inhaling the scent of lavender. Armaan sucked the drops of water as they traveled down her neck and disappeared in to the valley. Riddhima gasped and crossed her arms across her chest and turned away as he removed the pallu. He moved to the front placing butterfly kisses on her bare back, neck, shoulders and chest.

Riddhima looked away as her throat felt dry under his intense gaze. Armaan traced her features with his fingers. Her lips trembled as he rubbed his thumb on the lower lip. "Look at me Jaan." Armaan whispered hovering above her supporting himself on his elbows. He leaned in to kiss her and she threaded her fingers in his silky hair. The kiss was full of passion and need. Armaan moved to her neck as they broke for air, his lips left behind a burning sensation wherever they touched. Riddhima lifted herself off the bed and showered his face, neck and collar bone with wet kisses. He pulled her to himself lying down as he breathed deeply. "I love you Jaan." Armaan said as he closed his eyes trying to memorize every aspect of this beautiful night and loving the feel of having his love in his arms.


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